The org culture war in museums isn't just new vs old, but changing into the new or changing back into the old.
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This week, LOTW will examine the idea of change as an element of the so-called culture war. What are we changing, who are we changing, and why are we changing?
One: We start with this article about new technology that museums are working with. It's not just about the tech, however, as new tech requires new processes and less time spent on old ones to be effective. Every decision to try something requires balancing TMPR—Time, Money, People, and Resources.
Two: This Forbes article on a trend of new c-suite positions about "the future of work" interested me because I once dreamed of being a "chief culture officer." (Part of my conditioning to focus on a leadership position as the only way to help others.) By now, we've all read that culture can't just be changed—it's a process involving the entire organization, but can also start in a few "hot spots" where inspired groups push new priorities. How does the future of work affect org change? If it makes agreeing to change around the institution more difficult, it'll take more than a new executive champion to get it moving.
Four: The fact that most feedback sucks also makes change more difficult because change requires honesty and communication on all levels in the organization. (If workers can't be honest with leaders, don't blame that on the workers.)
Six: Org culture guru Stowe Boyd's recent newsletter on Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites (about war as a meme, sort of like the permanent state of war in Goldstein's book-in-book in Orwell's 1984) made the point that hierarchy, like war (in the form of military spending, for instance), is presented as something that "has to be" (with my emphasis):
Consider the proposition that hierarchy in culture (and, consequently, in business) is an exaptation, a social system that was originally evolved for waging war by large groups and lately by nation-states, but now exapted to other social contexts. Such a system is a cultural trait of the sort [meme popularizer Richard] Dawkins was referring to, one that 'evolved in the way that it has, simply because it is advantageous to itself.'
Hierarchy perpetuates itself, drawing groups, individuals, and entire societies into its patterns, for its own purposes, not those of the participants, per se. That some participants benefit while others don't isn’t the goal of the system, to the extent that memes can be considered to have goals.
Instead, the power inequality of hierarchy is a byproduct of the system perpetuating itself and does not reflect some foundational moral principle, some 'golden rule' of culture. But this meme has seeped into everything, everywhere, just like war, and to such an extent that altering any part of the infrastructure underlying hierarchy may require reforming the entire complex of business, markets, and society as a whole.
Perhaps we are no more likely to see an end of hierarchy than of war or pandemics.
And yet it's the writers who proclaim that something "doesn't have to be" who are often derided as negativists! More on that next week.
Seven: This Medium piece about the dangerous hold of totalitarian movements over the lonely is an important read, I think, because of the loneliness people in the museum field can experience, not just during remote work, but in overworked, suspicious silos. The workplace equivalent of totalitarianism is the automatic distrust of other departments when we don't take each other's humanity into account.
Eight: And yet is AI here to the rescue, as per this Harvard Business Review article? It seems that institutional leaders are listening to the siren song of automation to improve workplace traits like emotional intelligence and workload management. (This Twitter thread on how billionaires have captured public debates alongside the funding of tech and is worth checking out.)
Ten: Elite museum workers (and here's a piece by Jerusalem Desmas in Vox that makes an important point about "high skill" vs "low skill" work) often come down on a particular side of the mainstream political aisle, but Umair Haque writes in Medium that we shouldn't worry about a civil war—we already have all we need for a totalitarian takeover of society. Also, check out this Boston Review pieceabout the longstanding crisis in democracy and how organized labor has been a catalyst for democratic change.
The org culture war in museums is already here but it isn't necessarily the battle we think it is.
I'll leave you with this link to a Medium piece about how an elitist concept of liberation is no path to liberation at all. I know that not all museum workers have the privilege of the moneyed, white elite, but working in the cultural sector, especially in wealthy museums, prioritizes a certain worldview that can be hard to shake off.
Enjoy the links and stay tuned for next week's piece on optimism and negativism in the museum sector—get ready for some doomscrolling!
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cover image by Photo by Mick Haupt / Unsplash [description: Toys in the form of the Mandalorian and Grogu (Baby Yoda) from the show "The Mandalorian"]